If you’re in the U.S., this coming Sunday may as well be a national holiday. We’ll gather with friends and family, eat and drink too much, and watch football.
It may sound a lot like Thanksgiving, but the difference between that and the Super Bowl is that almost all of us have to go into work the next day.
I know, these are the choices we make. Certainly people can choose not to watch the Super Bowl (and many don’t). What I’m asking is that we stop wringing our hands over the lost productivity next Monday, and instead, start thinking about ways to handle it.
$820 million in lost productivity, 1.5 million sick days
Every time we get around a major holiday or sporting event, we hear about the impact of these things on the workplace. The NCAA basketball tournament (known as March Madness), and to a lesser extent, the Super Bowl, have the double whammy of being both a distraction and, because of casual gambling associated with them, potentially risky for employers.
Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas puts the national lost productivity at $820 million in their 2007 report on the issue. And in a 2008 survey conducted by Harris Interactive for the Workforce Institute at Kronos indicated that 1.5 million people could call in sick and an additional 4.4 million could be late to work the day after the Super Bowl.
Those are big numbers and those in the media looking for another angle on the already extraordinary coverage of the Super Bowl love being able to throw out those big numbers. And even though there are more than enough reasons to wonder how real these numbers actually are (especially that productivity number), it’s important to keep it in perspective.
Of course, what isn’t sexy is the context.
Critically looking at lost productivity
According to the latest BLS numbers (PDF), there are about 140 million employed people in the United States. So, to put those national loss productivity numbers in perspective, the average American worker loses about $5.85 worth of productivity for the entire week of the Super Bowl, and about 4 percent of your employees are either going to miss work or be late on Monday due to the big game Sunday in Indianapolis
That productivity epidemic seems a lot less serious given those numbers. And I imagine if you take out the most egregious offenders who should actually be addressed (the guys who spend all week on ESPN, working on betting pools, and trolling discussion boards), that number would improve even more.
Still, there may be some penny pinchers out there who think that any amount of productivity lost due to some silly game is unconscionable. From a guy who has personally fielded a call from a manager telling me that his people weren’t “that into work” on the Monday after the Super Bowl, I can tell you that there are better ways to spend time if you’re looking at increasing productivity.
Going against the grain of American culture (major sporting events), religion (holidays) or even time itself (Friday afternoons) always seems like a wasted battle and are largely uncontrollable. Simple things like reducing or eliminating certain meetings, creating an atmosphere for productive work, and eliminating road blocks in internal processes are more reasonable ways of increasing productivity (and are completely within your control as a company).
Yes, making the workplace as easy of a place to work as possible when people are fully onboard and engaged makes more sense as a starting place than trying to eliminate every little seasonal distraction that comes up.
But if you haven’t done these things and are instead chasing after less costly distractions — like productivity around sporting events or holidays — here’s a word to the wise: pick the low hanging fruit first.